There is an old theory that bad news and deaths happen “in threes,”

There is an old theory that bad news and deaths happen “in threes” – three events in close proximity to each other.

I don’t necessarily believe that, but I am aware of three recent deaths on three consecutive days. The name of one is familiar to you and there is one whose name might sound familiar.

And one, unless you are someone especially in tune with the techno world, is someone whose name you probably never heard.

I’ll start with the one that you are familiar with, which would be Nancy Reagan.

Mrs. Reagan died recently at the age of 94, nearly 12 years after the passing of her beloved husband Ronald Reagan, our nation’s 40th president, one of the most popular leaders of modern times.

Theirs was a Hollywood love story, both having once been employed as actors. Although she never had aspirations toward politics, she would serve two separate stints as First Lady – of the State of California, and of the United States.

While at times criticized as an elitist, wearing luxurious designer dresses and ordering expensive china for state dinners, few would argue the fact that Nancy Reagan brought style and elegance to the White House.

And her devotion to her husband was unwavering.

Known as his great protector, Mrs. Reagan made no apologies for being one of his closest advisors, and President Reagan never denied that she was.

No matter one’s feelings toward her, our country has now lost the last half of a classic All-American couple.

American author Pat Conroy died a couple of days before Mrs. Reagan. He had recently been diagnosed with stage-4 pancreatic cancer. If you are not a reader, you might not be familiar with Conroy, whose classic works such as “The Prince of Tides,” “The Great Santini” and “Beach Music,” though fictional, were all stories with close parallels to Conroy’s life.

The son of a sadistic fighter pilot, Conroy grew up in a family that moved numerous times before finally settling in the low country of South Carolina, which he called home from that time on. That included a stint at the Citadel, the inspiration behind another of his classics, “Lords of Discipline.” His dysfunctional family made for incredible storytelling. As one who has read virtually everything he ever wrote, I have often used the word “beautiful” to describe his ability to put words together. In my view, his peers were few.

I will always be thankful for the time I took last fall to grab a fellow English-language-loving friend and go to the Nashville Public Library where Conroy spoke as part of the Southern Festival of Books. His speaking was almost as eloquent as his writing, and it’s a memory I’ll forever hold dear.

And finally, I’ll tell you about another who recently left his earthly home, the one whose name is probably not familiar but whose mark on the world is, well, rather significant. Ray Tomlinson was a computer programmer who was a native New Yorker and received a graduate degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He died March 5, the day after Conroy and the day before Mrs. Reagan. He was 74 and employed by the defense contractor Raytheon at the time of his death.

Tomlinson is known as the inventor of email, having developed the communication method in 1971 on a system called ARPANET. I won’t even get into all of that and what it means, other than to say it appears to be something that foreshadowed the Internet as we know it. It took about 20 years for email to fully catch on, but it’s no exaggeration to say Tomlinson’s invention was life – and world – changing.

We have Tomlinson to thank for using the “@” sign that originally connected a user name from the name of the machine being used, and which has been used ever since as a key component of one’s email address.

Except in the world of technology, Tomlinson lived as a virtual unknown. In an interview a few years ago, he said he preferred the term “email” to “e-mail,” jokingly saying he was “trying to conserve the world’s supply of hyphens.”

So there you have it – three folks who recently left us, and left much behind to remember. Rest in peace, all.

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, husband of one, father of three and father-in-law of two. Email him at

About The Author

Kelly Gilfillan is the owner-publisher of Home Page Media Group which has been publishing hyperlocal news since 2009.

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